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Who Makes The Biggest Leap For The Jazz Next Season? - The Downbeat - #598

Whenever play resumes, we will be looking forward with the Jazz as this new era begins. There will still be veterans on the team next season, but their roles will be diminished -- if they're still with the team -- as the Jazz reinvent themselves for the second time in the past decade.

So as we look forward to the future, we base that hope on the young players that we have. Who will make the biggest leap/jump for next season as this new core goes forward? I want to look at who will make the biggest relative leap compared to what their respective ceiling are perceived to be. That means that a #3 pick should have a higher ceiling than a #9 pick and a #55 pick. With that though, I will rule out the incoming rookies Enes Kanter and Alec Burks. They will make leaps after their rookie seasons but we can't talk about them talking things to the next level when they haven't played a minute in the NBA.

So counting out all of the veterans with more than two years of experience, we're left with Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, and Jeremy Evans.

Derrick Favors had a solid rookie campaign. While he was with the Nets, he was unable to unseat Kris Humphries as the team's starting power forward. He averaged 20 minutes a night and put up 11 & 10 per 36 minutes. When he was traded to the Jazz, he received a slight uptick in minutes played during those 22 games and had some noticeable improvements in stats. His field goal percentage increased from 51.1% to 52.9% and took over two more shots per 36 minutes. His points and blocks per 36 minutes also went up. The stats that declined were his free-throw shooting percentage (with attempts increasing) and a negligible decline in rebounds per 36.

He fared well compared to other rookie forwards and centers last season while playing the least amount of minutes per game. He was part of two rebuilding teams last year and played relatively few minutes despite being the #3 pick. When he came to Utah, he was once again behind established veterans in Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson.

So what does Favors need to do to make the jump? First, it would be good for him if he didn't have to fight for minutes. Unless a trade goes down, he's going to still be fighting for playing time. The only solution to that would be to play so well so as to force Tyrone Corbin to give him more minutes. While he has the potential to do so, unseating Millsap and Jefferson will be tough. We may another season before he's given the reins full-time.

For him to make the biggest jump based on expectations, he would have to turn into a beast on both ends of the court. He did rank thirds among rookies in field goal percentage with only Greg Monroe and Ed Davis shooting higher. He also led in block shots per 36 minutes. Where he could take the biggest leap and have the highest probability of getting the most minutes is on the glass. He had a decent rebound percentage -- especially on the offensive end -- as a rookie but with his size and physical tools, he should be one of the most dominant in the league. With a qualifying season, he would have ranked 20th overall and top-4 in offensive rebound percentage.

For him to make the leap, his defense needs to become where he's talked about for the all-defensive team. If he's going to be the one making the biggest relative jump, that's what needs to happen.

If we were talking about who made the biggest jump in their rookie season, then Gordon Hayward would win hands down. His splits last season are phenomenal. After an ugly first few months of the season, he really came into his own post-DWill trade. His shooting percentage jumped five points from 46% (still really good for a guard) to 51%. Hayward's three-point shooting went from 36.7% (again, more than decent) to an astonishing 54.5% post All-star break. That wasn't just a limited sample size. He took 48 threes and 193 shots overall. As a starter he shot 56% from the floor and 51% from the arc. And incredibly enough he shot better on the road than at home.

From being booed as a draft pick to owning Kobe late in the season alone would qualify you as making the biggest leap last season.

So what does Hayward have to do in order to make the biggest jump of the three? For starters, he has the best chance at becoming one of the starting five. That could happen as the two or the three and could earn that spot over Raja Bell and CJ Miles. He only has to beat out one of them. If Alec Burks is groomed to become the starting two guard, then having Hayward at the wing will be his position for the future. And of course if Andrei comes back, that throws in another wrinkle.

Stats-wise, it will be hard for Hayward to improve upon his shooting percentages. Maintaining those stats while assuming the starting spot may be enough. For him to take it one step further, I would like to see him become more of a leader out on the court through his play and improving his playmaker skills. Again, with vets like Okur, Jefferson, Millsap, and Devin Harris, taking the lead may be a difficult task. He doesn't have to be the locker room leader by any means but he should become one of the main focal points on the floor.

If Hayward can maintain what he did at the end of last season while doing so as a starter, then he will have made the largest leap.

You can't talk about making the largest leaps without talking about Jeremy Evans. He literally and figuratively could make the largest leap next season relatively speaking. His biggest obstacle right now is that front-court logjam.

If he were a regular part of an opposing team's game plan, then we probably don't see him shooting 66% from the floor or putting up a PER of 18.8. The knock on him will be that he gets most of his points on dunks, put-backs, and alley-oops. Wouldn't most coaches kill if that were all of a player's shots? He's shown that he has range though. One of the things that Coach Sloan and Kevin O'Connor were impressed with during his tryout was his jump shot. He's shown that he can knock that down in-game as well. A lot of reporters and scouts were blown away with his play in the Vegas summer league games.

The biggest problem for Corbin will be just how he can get Evans minutes. Even if Evans's role is to continue to come in and provide high energy and a spark, that would be a perfect fit for the team. He could probably develop more with additional playing time, but that's going to be hard to come by even as he works to become a wing player instead of a barely-200-pound power forward.

What does Evans have to do to make the biggest relative jump? Again, with the rotation of Favors, Kanter, Okur, and Millsap, he's not going to get any playing time in his previous spot. He's going to have to redefine himself as a wing that can run 10 minutes with the second unit and provide the same play that he did last season in addition to developing a consistent jumper and creating his own shot. He has all the athleticism in the world but will need to become a better ball handler, distributor, and play-maker.

So who makes the biggest relative jump? I will still have to go with Favors even though his jumping point was much higher than Hayward and Evans. He has the potential to become an elite player and will have the biggest role increase out of the three.

The Jazz already have Mehmet Okur playing overseas as well as former Jazz man Andrei Kirilenko and Deron Williams (though AK could come back). If you're looking for other players to take their talents across the pond, it probably won't happen. From Howard Beck at the New York Times, (via BDL),

"There's not a lot of jobs," said Mark Bartelstein, whose agency, Priority Sports, has 15 clients playing overseas. "The season's under way over there, so everybody's got their rosters full. Is there potential that there may be some team that wants to try to carve out some opportunities for players? I think that's possible. But the economics are not such that there's a lot of teams that can afford to do that."

I don't think the players were ever going to really use this for leverage anyways. The players that have gone are all playing for different reasons. A lot of them do need the money. Memo probably doesn't need the money but he is getting paid well and keeping in shape. Deron also doesn't need the money rather playing for the experience.

So while Enes Kanter's agent has said that he's keeping his options open to European offers, there may not be offers to be had. No other Jazz player has stated that they're looking to play elsewhere while the lockout resumes.

David Stern went on WFAN yesterday and essentially killed Christmas more than two months before it happens despite having just cancelled the first two weeks of the season Monday. Ken Berger has the transcript:

"It's time to make the deal," Stern said, speaking deliberately and threateningly Wednesday in an interview on New York's WFAN radio. "If we don't make it on Tuesday, my gut -- this is not in my official capacity of canceling games -- but my gut is that we won't be playing on Christmas Day."

Stern also appeared on NBA TV last night and will be on several more media shows today. One of the reasons he's hitting up interviews now is that with mediation set to begin Monday, and as yesterday's Downbeat quoted, mediator George Cohen could implement a gag order where neither side will be allowed to discuss the negotiations.

It's scary just how well Stern has handled this entire process. The players have known for at least two years that a lockout was likely coming and the union and its reps have had all that time to prepare yet Stern has owned them in every way. With negotiations, PR, and careful characterization of Billy Hunter, he has everything on his side. The league filed pre-emptive lawsuits to block decertification. His threats of canceled contracts, lost games, and control of the media have been amazing.

He's a freight liner right now and the only hope that the union has to stop him is if the National Labor Board returns a favorable ruling for the union. Even then, it could be tied up in courts for some time. He could even go all Costanza on them, "if you think I'm kidding, just try me. Try me. Because I would love it!"

Even with all of the claims of not negotiating in good faith, apparent contradictions in what the league has offered, and general smugness by Stern, nothing is slowing him down. I'm still on the players' side but they've run into a machine and they have no answer.

Noam Schiller has a fantastic look at if fans could own and run an NBA team:

It's for these reasons and more that fans complain about their owners loud and often. And nowhere is this more prevalent than during this mess of a lockout. Millions of fans want to watch NBA basketball, and are being prevented from doing so. How much the players are to blame for this is irrelevant - NBA players can't be replaced with other basketball players without seeing a dramatic drop in the quality of play. NBA owners, though? The very notion that owners are playing even the slightest part in this lockout means that they are outliving their usefulness. There may be less billionaires available than world-class basketball players, but there are still enough billionaires to give us 30 that don't get in the way. The owners are nothing but a middle man, an unfortunate necessity on the way to what we truly desire.

But are they even a necessity at all?

Friday poll...